Tag Archives: Raj

Adventure, mass murder and bananas. It’s the perfect Edinburgh comedy show.

Charmian and Kaye on the Ganges in Varanasi

Charmian (left) & Kaye last month on the Ganges in Varanasi

If you are going to perform for over three weeks at the always potentially rainy and windy Edinburgh Fringe in August, it is best to make your show about a glamorous subject simply on the basis that the research will cheer you up.

Comedian Charmian Hughes was in India last month doing 16 days ‘research’ with her friend Kaye Bachelard. Both were following in the footsteps of their earlier even more feisty relatives and trying to uncover what really happened to them.

Kaye had a relative who forsook the Jesuit priesthood for a woman. Charmian’s story was even more of an adventure and will be the basis of her Edinburgh Fringe show next year.

“Which section of the Fringe Programme do you think I should put it in?” she asked me last night after she and Kaye had run through their stories with photos and videos in Charmian’s kitchen.

“In the Comedy section,” I said, “because it will attract more bums on seats. It’s a real cracking adventure story – well, a double adventure story – the 19th century one and your own 2013 one. It’s got murder, mystery mayhem and all the rest – but you’ll make it funny with all the incidental details – the populace paying homage to a great man by giving him bananas is worth at least a titter.”

I asked Charmian to give me an ‘elevator pitch’ for her proposed show.

“It is,” she said, “about me and my friend Kaye going to find out about our families who had escaped from India – and WE ended up having to escape!”

“Who was the relative whose adventure you were following in the footsteps of?” I asked, on the basis that it’s easier to write blogs if you get other people to supply the words.

“Mrs Goldney,” said Charmian. “She got caught up in the Indian Mutiny. She escaped on the back of an elephant by climbing up its tail and disguising herself in torn-up petticoats as an Indian bride. She took shelter with the one-eyed scoundrel and the Rajah and she escaped from a mob who were trying to kill her by throwing her money around so, in the end, she had the same tipping worries as everyone else does in India. Do you think it’ll work?”

“Yes,” I told her. “It has a Three Act structure. It starts off like it’s going to be a gentle tale about two modern women on a trip to India following in the footsteps of their forebears… then it becomes a 19th century female Indiana Jones adventure story set in the Indian Mutiny, with people getting killed by being tied to the front of the barrels of cannons while others are beheaded and escaping on elephants…

“…and then we have the end bit of your adventure which we can’t say too much about in a blog because it would give away how you met royalty and why you thought – with good reason – that you and Kaye might be killed and/or bricked-up alive inside a wall. What is there not to like? It has adventure, mass murder and bananas – the perfect Edinburgh Fringe comedy show. And, because you both had short hair, people kept thinking you were lesbians and kept offering you double beds. So it even has the lure of sex in it. You just have to add in some Indian dancing…”

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

“No dancing,” said Charmian.

“There has to be,” I said. “It’s a tradition in your shows. You did the sand dance in two of your shows. This one cries out for you to do some Indian dancing.”

“No,” said Charmian.

“Well at least have a practice here in the kitchen,” I said.

And she did.

I have high hopes Charmian may, once again, dance in her Edinburgh Fringe show next August.

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Toilet seats and the difference in the collapse of British & Russian empires

A bottom-shaped toilet seat as it was meant to be

A toilet seat as it was meant to be…

I flew to Kiev yesterday. I went to the toilet first.

They have tried hard at London’s Gatwick Airport.

There is a new ‘super-loo’.

The holes in the toilet seats are rectangular.

I checked my bottom before and after using one. My bottom is not rectangular. I was unable to check other people’s bottoms. But I suspect the design of these new ‘super’ toilet seats is a triumph of design over practicality.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Some seats in the Departure Lounge at Gatwick have little flat surfaces next to them with plug sockets and USB ports so you can use and charge your computers and mobile phones.

All the sockets and USB ports had been switched off.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Ukraine International Airlines were very attentive on the flight to Kiev. All the pilot and cabin announcements were, of course, in both Ukrainian… and in English as, I think, the rules say they have to be. At least, I think they were in English.

But the English was around 97% totally incomprehensible. It was like audio origami. I basically only knew it was English because of the polite addition of clear Thankyous at the end of sentences.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

A street in Kiev at 9.40am this morning

A central street in Kiev – or Kyiv –  at 9.40am this morning

So now I am in Kiev.

In an enlightening conversation last night, a local was telling me how the corruption system works.

It is a triumph of actual effectiveness over good intentions.

I say I am in Kiev… but actually I am in Kyiv. Because ‘Kiev’ was the Russian-approved Western spelling used in the Soviet era. Now Ukraine is independent. So now it is written as ‘Kyiv’.

As with all ex-Soviet states, there was and is a problem with the Russians.

I remember a historian (not British born) telling me in the 1990s what he thought was the difference between the collapse of the British Empire and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

I do not know if he is right or wrong, but it is an interesting viewpoint.

The way he saw it, the British had conquered an empire but had, by-and-large, not fully integrated themselves within the local community, particularly in India.

In the Raj, they tended to live in British communities, go to British clubs and continue living their British lives separate from the local communities. Britain was always seen as their home country. They lived consciously as ex-pats.

With the Soviet Empire, the Russians, to a greater extent, colonised each country and moved their families and lives lock, stock and family barrel into them because they, perhaps, felt that all these other countries really were part of one great Socialist country.

When India got independence, by and large, most British families simply upped-sticks and left, mostly going back to their ‘home’ country – the UK.

But, when the Soviet Empire collapsed and satellite countries got independence, the Russian populations within those countries had psychologically, economically and physically integrated their families’ lives within the communities. They had no actual close family ties back in Russia. They were not expats living away from mother Russia. They were Russians who felt fully part of the satellite countries.

For example, in Uzbekistan, they were not Uzbeks yet, in Russia, they were not ‘real’ Russians. They had nowhere to ‘go home’ to. These were Russians who had been in Uzbekistan for generations and were now left stranded in what had been their home country and was now a foreign country.

Same thing in the Ukraine… exacerbated by a history of invasions over the centuries.

There is a heavy Russian presence in the east and in the south of modern, independent Ukraine. According to a 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their ‘native’ language and 29.6 percent declared Russian.

They considered Russian their ‘native’ language.

Almost 30% of the country.

Almost all in the east and south.

This is not good.

Some people talk of splitting the country.

Mostly the Russians in the Ukraine. And the Russians in the Kremlin.

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Filed under India, Russia, Travel, Ukraine